President's Blog

Posted: 24 Feb 2016 by William Longrigg

My last ‘blog’ was on 17 December 2015 and we have all been pretty busy in IAFL, as I can now call it, since then.  

Luckily, in the lead-up to Christmas, despite a few conference calls with Nancy Berg, Cheryl Hepfer, Rachael Kelsey and Donna Goddard mainly concerning committees, Russia and the website, we were able to regroup somewhat  until Dorothea and I flew to India on Monday 4 January, principally to finalise arrangements for the New Delhi meeting in September.

We met with the agents and with the Imperial Hotel managers; we had dinner with Delhi fellow Pinky Anand and her husband who will be hosting us at her official residence in September (she is Additional Solicitor-General of India); we visited various restaurants, various sites and drove to parts of New Delhi and Old Delhi we had not been to before; we also visited the India International Centre where Indian fellows Anil and Ranjit Malhotra will be holding an evening reception for us on the Friday of the  September meeting. It is also where we will be holding the one day symposium on Tuesday 13 September, the day before the  meeting begins.   

During the course of the week Dorothea and I were able to visit Varanasi and Udaipur, two of the potential destinations for the after-trip.   I strongly urge any of our fellows both to come to New Delhi for the meeting and also to book onto the trip afterwards.   We were amazed and hugely impressed by what we saw.   Udaipur is a gem of a city set around a lake amidst the wonderful mountains of Rajastan.   The 18th century Lake Palace Hotel visible from most of the city was used as the setting for the James Bond film Octopussy and the locals loved telling us all about it.    The town is very characterful and is dominated by the vast and magnificent  palace of the Maharana of Udaipur built over several centuries.  Varanasi is more of a challenge as a city but the 87  steep ‘ghats’ (long sets of steps)  leading down to the river Ganges are host to all manner of religious ceremonies at all times of the day and night. The boat trips at dawn and then again at dusk to witness these ceremonies are quite extraordinary, as is the architecture along the river banks.   This is the holiest place in India and the maze of alleyways and hundreds of temples lining the Ganges are quite simply breathtaking.  Dorothea and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary here; no champagne though – alcohol and meat are not allowed within 200 metres of that part of the Ganges. But the hotel gave us a lovely cake!

I am happy to say that we were reassured that the New Delhi conference really will be something very special indeed and something quite different.  I am overwhelmed by how many people have told me that they will be coming and how excited they are about it.  India is indeed an extraordinary, beautiful and fascinating country.   There really is something there for everybody.   The Imperial Hotel in New Delhi is a lovely hotel and the cost is not too high by international standards.   Just sitting outside at breakfast made me realise that we had made the right choice, but this was confirmed many times over.  I do urge you to come.   You can already book your hotel room on the website but the meeting itself will not go live until May. 

It was good to arrive back in London on Sunday 10 January rather than having to go straight into the office, particularly because I had a round table settlement meeting which lasted all day on the Monday starting at 9 am…..

On Wednesday 13 January I invited for lunch (with some of my associates) Mindaugas Vaicunias, a young family lawyer from Lithuania, who was interning for two weeks with the law firm of Anne-Marie Hutchinson.  He has some very interesting ideas about creating a network of family lawyers in Eastern European countries which he and I have been discussing for a while now.   He also came to the Berlin meeting in November and I hope shortly he will apply to be a Fellow.

That evening I got on a plane with my ‘consigliere’ Rachael Kelsey to fly to Botswana.   Why Botswana, you might ask?   Rachael is friendly with the former Lord President of Scotland, Lord (Arthur) Hamilton (whom she has trained to be a family law arbitrator), who is also on the panel of Court of Appeal judges in Botswana.  He goes there twice a year for about five weeks on each occasion while the Court of Appeal sits.   He has some contacts there in legal circles and we felt it was an ideal opportunity to continue our efforts to expand our fellowship and the IAFL reach into sub-Saharan Africa, which we have also attempted to do by attending South African fellow Zenobia du Toit’s Cape Town conference for the last few years.   Zenobia had also given us some names of lawyers doing family law and Rachael had set up a meeting in the capital Gaborone for the evening of Thursday 14 January with 25 lawyers from Botswana who practise family law.  This was masterminded by Botswana family lawyer Rita Keevil (who has subsequently applied to be a fellow) who is clearly much admired and liked by all of the legal community there.   Rachael and I were bowled over by getting to know these lawyers over a period of some hours and we were able to pinpoint 3 or 4 who would be wonderful additions to the IAFL membership and would provide a different and rich perspective to the practice of international family law.  Botswana has a population of only 2 million people but it is often held up as a successful and non-corrupt African country which is relatively prosperous.   We were also able on behalf of IAFL to entertain these 25 family lawyers for a fraction of what it would have cost in the UK or the US and they seemed genuinely pleased to be able to exchange ideas with us.  

It was a long way to go (via Johannesburg) for one main evening, but our visit was worthwhile, even though our hotel was in the process of being rebuilt, as was the new Central Business District in which it was situated.   Gaborone is not on the tourist map.

On the morning of Friday 15th January, we had the extraordinary experience of sitting in the court of appeal on the hearing of an appeal brought by the government against a ruling by a lower court that the local LGBT Group (Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana) (Legabibo) that  Legabibo should be allowed lawfully to register with the department of civil and national registration.   It had been something of a surprise that the government had appealed the positive ruling of the lower court and there were about 200 people in court, presumably representing a significant section of the Botswana gay community.    There is no judgment yet but there was something of a party atmosphere among the many Legabibo representatives in court.    This is a country where homosexual acts are illegal and potentially punishable by seven years’ imprisonment.  There were exchanges in court about whether such a law was appropriate in a ‘liberal democracy’ so I believe and hope that, regarding a change in the law before too long, the writing is clearly on the wall. 

We were given a tour of Gaborone (founded only in 1966) by Rita Keevil’s intern who had been brought up there.  She gave us some fascinating insights into Botswana society.  It is, for example, apparently rare for a man not to have a mistress and it is not just accepted but expected. It does not work in the same way for the women…. 

Rachael and I had dinner with Lord Hamilton at a wonderful game reserve on Friday night before flying to Johannesburg on Saturday and then back to London.  

The following week, law firm Penningtons Manches had a great drinks party where I saw a lot of friends from the world of family law we were able to introduce the Lithuanian lawyer Mindaugas to other IAFL fellows.

In the meantime, everything was getting ready for Los Angeles.  Donna was working far too hard and there were a lot of papers to prepare for the Executive Committee and other matters.   Donna was also frantically working with the current and future website providers, dealing with a lot of other issues so she and I were in contact quite regularly.  I was leaving for LA on 29 January and I realised that I had agreed to chair a seminar for 200 people the day before!  Unsurprisingly, it meant rather a late night in the office. 

A long flight to Los Angeles but we are so lucky in London to have direct flights to virtually everywhere.  We had a few days in Santa Monica seeing friends of Dorothea’s (and doing quite a bit of work both for clients and IAFL) before clocking in at the meeting hotel, the Montage in Beverley Hills, on Tuesday 2 February. Joy had certainly managed to get a good deal on the hotel as it was exceptionally good for a really reasonable price.   We went straight up to the roof top terrace - with wonderful views over Beverley Hills - and had lunch with Miles and Jane Preston in the sun.  Various meetings had been set up for the afternoon to move forward with issues to do with the website and social media and to prepare for the Executive meeting the following day. But we were soon “released” in time for the Executive dinner where it was great to sit outside and spend a lot of time talking to old friends, including Paris fellow Isabelle Rein-Lescastereyres who is Counsel this year and of course my old friend and apparent doppelganger James Stewart who is Parliamentarian.  

The following day the Executive Committee meeting went well and we got through a great deal of work. We were able to consolidate a lot of matters.   This was followed immediately by the Board of Admissions meeting where we were able to vote in a list of very interesting new people.   Now that IAML/IAFL is 30 years old, we are beginning to get quite a lot of retirements, mainly but not only from people who have not been coming to meetings much anyway.    But there is so much enthusiasm for an invitation to join IAFL from around the world that I am really confident about the future.    And everybody is doing a fantastic job in raising our profile and attracting first-rate new fellows.

We were in time for the Hurrah for Hollywood trip, the highlight of which – for me anyway – was the Farmers’ Market which I had last been to 12 years ago. I rather hated myself for eating a huge hot dog with all the trimmings but, when in Rome…

The welcome reception on the Montage roof terrace was a wonderful opportunity to see a lot of old friends and to meet many new people as well.   There were a surprising number of new faces and they seemed really happy to be there.  It was a lovely evening with some great conversations, rounded off by dinner with Mia Reich-Sjögren and Sandra Verburgt.  

Thursday 4th February saw the beginning of a seriously good CLE programme put together by Joy M. Feinberg, Pierre Hugues-Fortin, Patricia Fourcand, Suzanne Harris, Karon Bales,Fahi Takesh Hallin, Laura Dale. Esther Lenkinski, Anne-Marie Hutchinson, Dr. Philip Stahl and Dr. Robert Simon.   We had cross-border tax issues, a great panel with representatives from all over the world talking about surrogacy, a talk on “race, religion and family law” and a lot of comments from the floor.

This was followed by a memorable trip to the Getty Centre and, one of the highlights of the whole meeting, a drinks reception at the home of Stephen and Laila Kolodny in Beverley Hills.   They had built up a large bar outside the back of their beautiful house and every other surface was groaning with delicious food.   The large garden was beautifully lit and it was just a fabulous place to relax. Very many thanks to them for their hospitality and generosity. They were perfect hosts!

The first timers’ dinner later on was an opportunity to get to know my hostess for the following evening, Annie Wishingrad, and I also sat with Jorge and Carol Cestero which was fun as always.   I am glad to say that the first timers seemed enthusiastic about being there too!

Friday morning saw more excellent CLE, including “forced marriage in the USA and Canada” led by Anne Marie Hutchinson. Nancy Zalusky Berg challenged the delegates to take a role in helping IAFL bring this to the attention of the powers that be in the USA and she had some enthusiastic volunteers.  This was followed by a talk on intellectual property in the context of family law and then “USA habitual residence review and UK comparison” which was extremely interesting.  Everyone agreed that the CLE had been first-rate and full of variety and interest. All the papers will be up on the website as soon as Donna has a moment.

On Friday afternoon we had a really good trip around Warner Brothers studios which we loved! What’s not to like about having your picture taken in the set of Central Perk from Friends? Later, after some time to fit in a bit of work, those who did not go to the magic show went as guests of various fellows in their homes.  This was a great idea and we went with Cindy Diggs from Houston, Jane Craig from London and Hal Mayerson from New York for dinner at the home of new fellow Annie Wishingrad and her husband Paul.  And what a lovely evening it was in their beautiful hilltop home in Bel Air, about 20 minutes from the hotel.  It was such a contrast to our own up and down house in London – theirs was airy and open plan and very elegant.  It was great to get to know them and to get to know Hal Mayerson and Cindy Diggs as well.   A huge thank you to the fellows and their families who opened their homes to us – all their guests I spoke to were so happy to have had that opportunity.  

The AGM on Saturday morning was an opportunity for fellows to hear about the achievements of the US chapter and to find out what is in store for them at the future meetings – Amsterdam and The Hague at the end of May which (will be nothing short of magical), New Delhi in September, Lisbon and Nashville and Reykjavik next year, as well as the mini-meetings in Moscow and New York coming up soon.

The president’s dinner on Saturday evening was enormous fun! We had to say goodbye to Joy Feinberg who was stepping down as USA Chapter President in favour of Marlene Moses.  Joy has done such a fantastic job during her two year term and many people had opportunities to sing her praises during the course of the day, culminating with the speeches at the president’s dinner.

Pierre-Hugues Fortin told me at the dinner that the Canadian Chapter was going to sponsor the symposium in India – great news and many thanks Pierre and Canada! This should be quite an event and will be held on the Tuesday before the New Delhi meeting. I hope a lot of fellows will come as well as local lawyers. These symposia (the brainchild of president-elect Nancy Berg) have become a wonderful opportunity to bring in local lawyers and judges whenever we have our meetings in large centres and have grown to become really attractive to existing fellows as well as locals. Please be there!

Back in London on the morning of Monday 8 February and that afternoon to a meeting with Suzanne Kingston, Maggie Rae and Maggie’s associate Paul Newton to talk further about the education programme for New Delhi. I was of course full of ideas from the LA meeting education programme.   It’s going to be amazing! 

Friday 12 February was an unproductive day because Rachael Kelsey, Donna and I spent a number of hours answering stupid questions in a dingy office and travelling to two different buildings in London to get our Russian visas for the forthcoming Moscow trip. 

Dorothea and I took my  long-suffering PA Joanna and her husband John out for dinner at Jo Allen’s the same evening as a thank you for all the brilliant work they both do, but in particular Joanna who has been working with me for more than 24 years.  As she often says, ‘you get less for murder’. 

There had been a lot of discussion and some long meetings at the LA conference and subsequently to do with social media and the website.    At one of the meetings in LA we had agreed on many important matters to do with the website.  Donna has been very occupied with dealing with this.   There were some aspects which she had tried on the current website which did not work properly and which we have had to revert.  The developers of our new website (which should go live in April of this year), Front Media, who are based geographically close to Donna, seem excellent and responsive and we have high hopes for what can be achieved.  We have now spent a long time in setting out what it is that we need and it is for Donna to work with the website developers to continue to put it into effect.   I have not helped her by organising all sorts of other IAFL-related matters for her to be involved with but she has been really good about it.   

On top of everything else, Donna is doing a lot towards the forthcoming IAFL mini-conference in Moscow.   She and I will be flying out with various others on Saturday 27 February.  The conference takes place from the Sunday evening and then over the whole of Monday and Tuesday morning.  James Stewart has been organising it with Véronique Chauveau, Kerstin Niethammer-Jürgens, new Russian fellow Elga  Syukiyaynen, Alain Cornec’s  partner Julie Losson and a number of others who have given their time so generously.  I am excited about it.  It has been a great deal of additional work for all of us, but perhaps particularly for Donna and for James. 

So when I next do my “blog” Moscow will have happened. I will also have been to the Family Law Conference in Cape Town. The new website will be live and we will have taken another step forward with the social media and the committee structures. We will also be looking forward to the IAFL conference designed for young family lawyers in New York in the middle of April.  I urge those of you US fellows who have young associates or know of young lawyers who have an international practice or are interested in developing one to send them to this conference on 14-16 April 2016.   Details on the website.  This is being organised principally by President-Elect Nancy Zalusky Berg with the help of a number of New York fellows. This is a way of raising our profile and improving the practice of international family law as well an opportunity to attract the brightest and best to be our fellows of the future.

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